While at least two other unrelated groups have had no trouble collecting petition signatures in Florida ahead of the 2020 election cycle, another campaign appears to be in meltdown mode.
The director of the group pushing to deregulate Florida’s energy markets locked down his Twitter account after he went on a social media tirade against the Florida agency responsible for verifying his group’s petition signatures this week. Before hiding his posts on Twitter, Alex Patton, executive director of Citizens for Energy Choices, hinted that Russian hackers may have been hired to bog down a state website in an effort to thwart his signature gathering campaign.
“I’m sure if @FloridaElection were under a bot attack…say from Russia…. They would [be] loathe to admit it,” Patton tweeted. “They need to come clean – are they under a DDoS attack or not? Simple question.”
Patton’s tirade, bordering on unhinged, didn’t stop there. He even suggested that a “bot network” could be hired for the “low, low price of $50” to take down the state’s petition website, and then threatened litigation to “find out the real story” of why the state’s website isn’t working properly.
Florida officials debunked the accusations by Patton, telling the Tampa Bay Times that there is no evidence to support his claim. The officials did acknowledge that the site still isn’t functioning properly, but provided a workaround solution that other groups have used without problems.
While Patton points fingers, groups like Florida For A Fair Wage, which is backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, broke the 700,000 signature mark last month. Another group, called Citizen Voter, which is pushing for stronger laws to block non-citizens from voting in Florida elections, posted 1.3 million signatures, more than double the number required.
And at least one political operative made it clear he thinks Patton is under pressure to make up for a shortfall of more than a quarter of a million signatures in just three months, and that he’s unlikely to get there. The finger pointing, he says, is contrived, a way to shift blame away from Citizens for Energy Choices own mismanagement of their campaign.
“Sounds like a bunch of whining because you won’t make your deadline to me,” said Republican campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini in a response he posted on Twitter.
Over the past year, Citizens for Energy Choices has only collected 491,664 signatures of the necessary 766,200 needed by February 1st, 2020. If the group does manage to meet the threshold and the Florida Supreme Court approves the ballot language, a minimum of 60 percent of Florida voters would then need to vote in favor of the measure in order to deregulate the state’s power grid. With fewer than two-thirds of the required signatures needed to meet the threshold, and only 101 days remaining before the deadline, Patton will need to pull out all the stops and significantly ramp up signature collection efforts.
When Patton threatened legal action against Florida officials, Pedicini blasted Patton for running the same playbook that a similar group is using in Ohio – blaming state officials for their signature shortfall. The Ohio group filed a federal lawsuit making accusations against Ohio officials that were similar in tone to Patton’s accusations in Florida. The Ohio group is asking a court to extend the deadline so that they can gather more signatures.
There are other Ohio connections, too. Patton’s group, Citizens for Energy Choices, has three major financial backers that sell energy in Ohio: Vistra Energy, NRG Energy, and Infinite Energy. Those groups helped bankroll a third party vendor for Citizens for Energy Choices, called Advanced Micro Targeting. AMT specializes in supplying paid signature gatherers who swarm retail parking lots asking voters to sign petitions. AMT is the same vendor behind the signature-gathering shortfall in Ohio.
Ohio officials have similarly rejected the complaints. The Ohio Attorney General’s office said AMT’s problems are related to bad business decisions. Under cross examination during a hearing on the Ohio matter, AMT’s CEO admitted that they simply “underestimated” the opposition to their proposal.
Neither Patton nor Infinite Energy CEO Rich Blaser responded to messages seeking comment for this story.